Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fr. Perrone on the Dies Irae and divine wrath

Here is last week's homily heard at the 9:30 am Mass (1962 Missal). It's a theme rarely heard in this "tell me something good" era. While God's love and mercy are a reality, so is God's justice. Here, Fr. Perrone looks closer at the Dies Irae and divine wrath.

We've been told repeatedly how much God loves us. But ought we not love Him back and if so, how? Hold that thought...

24th Sunday after Pentecost, 2011

This lengthy, difficult and frightening Gospel is fittingly selected by Holy Church as its final word on the final Sunday of the liturgical year. “Doom” may be the right word to express its theme: the terrible day that is to come at the end of time. As a reference point for this, our Lord first spoke about a calamity that was more imminent: the fall of Jerusalem, the city sacred to the Jews. This event, here foretold, was a divine punishment inflicted upon the city for the Jews’ disbelief in Christ and for the underlying cause of their rejection of Him: the endemic perversity of the people of those times. The connection between vice and unbelief should be evident: indulging in sinful conduct leads to the denial of God if only as to hide oneself from His face.

After speaking about this approaching ravaging of the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, our Lord nearly imperceptibly shifts His discourse to the end of the world, an appropriate juxtaposition since both events manifest God’s wrath, that is, His just anger due to those who will not relinquish their sins and who will not repent of their erring ways.

The divine wrath is a subject unheard nowadays, the very silence of which may be a clue to our greater nearness to the end of time. Fashioning God according to our own wish has stripped Him of His justice and made Him appear weak, permissive and unconcerned over things He was once so bold as to forbid us from doing. This caricature of the Almighty is surely insulting to Him who has clearly revealed the truth about Himself. When so many blithely go about fooling themselves into believing in a non-judgmental deity and in their own immunity from punishments, I need to remind you parishioners from time to time not to be taken-in by the attractive parody of an impotent God. As an antidote to this religious virus, I’d like to read for you and comment upon verses of the hymn Dies iræ which the Church has for centuries used as the Sequence in the traditional funeral Mass. Its theme is very close to this Gospel and will clarify how the justice and the mercy of God is in reality rather than in an evasive fantasy.

This great hymn of the Dies Iræ opens with the evocation of the final day of wrath when the earth will be destroyed in ashes, the day on which the Judge will come, when the Angel will sound his trumpet announcing the judgment, when all tombs will be opened and everyone will stand astonished and trembling before God. The symbolic book will be brought forth and the divine Judge will be seated: nothing will be hidden from His scrutiny.

Following this accurate, biblical depiction of the final judgment, the poem shifts to the first person singular, the self-questioning ‘I.’ ’What shall I, a wretch, say then? Who will speak for me as an advocate, when scarcely a just man stands secure?’ Then follows an appeal to the Lord: “O King of tremendous majesty, save me, O Fountain of compassion! Remember, O compassionate Jesus, because I am the reason for your coming; remember, lest you lose me on that day. When seeking me, You sank down tired; You redeemed me in suffering the cross: May so great a labor not be in vain! (See here how the sinner attempts to broker with God by appealing to His Passion: a stratagem known to the saints.) And since we have not yet arrived at the judgment, it is wise to plead ahead of the time, anticipating the day: “Just Judge of vengeance, grant me the gift of forgiveness before the day of reckoning. Like a criminal, my face blushes with guilt; be sparing to this suppliant, O God. You who absolved Mary Magdalene and heard the thief on the cross: You have given me hope as well. My prayers are not worthy, but You, being good, kindly grant them, lest I burn in the eternal fire. Grant me a place among the sheep, and separate me from the goats, placing me at your right side. After confounding the accursed, condemning them to the lively flames, call me over to the Blessed.” And then, since all depends on how one will end his life, the sinner pleads: “I pray suppliantly, bowed down, my heart as if ashes: take care of the end of my life.”

To conclude, the text returns to its initial theme: ‘Tearful (lacrimosa) will be that infamous day when the guilty man will arise from the ashes to be judged: Be sparing to Him, O God!’The final stanza is the now-famous text of the Pie Jesu: “O Compassionate Jesus Lord, grant them rest. Amen.”

I have taken the trouble to quote this magnificent, if frightening, liturgical poem to you, on this last day of the Church year to have you realize that, admit it or not, you will someday see the very things described in this text. In presenting it to you, it’s not a matter of being negative, or showing a preference for fire and brimstone over sweetness and mercy, but it is a matter of truth. Should canonized saints be the only ones who always meditate on what we call the four last things (their own death and judgment, heaven and hell) while we, far more wicked than they, banish these subjects from our thoughts? Where’s the prudence in that? Of course, we know that there are people emotionally oversensitive to any mention of God’s judgments, and so we need to speak to such with a greater delicacy than to others of a lesser sensibility. But we need also admit that there are many people of an acute obtuseness who need to listen to the forecast of the dreadful future that will certainly and inevitably await them unless they grieve over their sins, beseech the mercy of God, confess them and be absolved. And who among us is so sure that we (those called ‘wretched’ in the Dies Iræ text) have nothing to be concerned about in regard to our own future existence when (again, from the poem) even the just man is scarcely secure?

We should emerge from this final day of the year somewhat chastened by the
warnings Christ uttered out of merciful pity for people of His own creating and redeeming. God does not want us to perish but to have eternal life. For this He admonishes, warns and–yes–threatens us to stay on the narrow way that leads to eternal life, lest we be lost. Let us not scorn these divine censures, scoldings, rebukes, reprimands, reproaches, but rather make prudent use of them to recondition and redirect our all-too facile tendency to exempt ourselves from them and invoke a factitious amnesty for our unrepentant ways.

I'm going to take this opportunity to point out that Assumption Grotto will be having a 4 day mission for Advent on December 1-4.  Thursday and Friday it will be held in the parish church following the 7:00 pm Mass. Saturday and Sunday it will be in the lounge.  More to follow.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!
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